Friday, January 25, 2013

An Art Licensing True Story - Learning to Take a Leap by Artist Jill Meyer

I like to tell stories but mostly I like to listen to them. It's not only fun and entertaining but I always learn something new from them. So I asked a few artists to tell us their stories. This week I want to share artist Jill Meyer's tale.

When asked, she realized immediately that her precise story is not important at all, she said. "But what may be important for others is to know that I have redefined my life many times and have lived to tell the tale! I have often had to overcome the uncertainty and anxiety that comes with making a life change, turn off the rhetoric in my head that said I could not do it, pull all of my resources together, grit my teeth, and move forward on an unknown path."

© Jill Meyer
She still has a vivid memory of sitting on the classroom floor when she was in kindergarten. She said she was blissfully making artwork by coloring, cutting and pasting. She wanted to continue doing this forever, but that activity was over all too soon. "I think the reason that art, design, and color play a role in each of my lives and links them all is that I never really did get enough coloring, cutting and pasting in kindergarten, and I still want to continue forever! This connecting thread is somehow always involved in my various pursuits and passions, and they all hark back in some way to that blissful experience in kindergarten!"

Jill also adds, "When I become interested in something, I pursue it full throttle. I need to learn everything I can possibly learn about what I am interested in and sharpen my skills as much as they can be sharpened, and then I dive into whatever has become my passion head first with no life preserver in sight." After a certain length of time, doing what you do on a daily basis can become stale - she explains.  "I know when that happens to me because I notice that I do not approach my endeavor with the same enthusiasm or excitement. I always try to do my best when I am engaged but I know the signs now when the blush is beginning to come off the rose. When I make it a point to be aware of my own behavior and I am honest with myself, I usually know when it is time for me to change my direction. It took me several bouts of misery to learn to pay attention to these signals." She knows for sure, she says, that she is ready to make a leap to something new, when she hears herself saying that perhaps "I have stayed too long at the fair!"

© Jill Meyer
Jill had been a teacher at every level, kindergarten through high school. Several years before she left her last teaching position she developed a burning interest in calligraphy. She was fascinated by and studied the nuances of every historical hand and practiced her lettering at every spare moment. With an eye toward a new career, she also studied for and received a state license in real estate. After many years in the classroom she happily left teaching with the idea that she would begin to buy, redesign, and sell houses. "I had no real experience in this but it seemed to me that after managing and teaching a room full of children and getting them to do what I wished, that it might not be any more difficult to wrangle a group of construction workers! I wanted to be able to take a tired, worn, and dated older house and give it a fresh, current, and more attractive look, and then sell it to someone who would be thrilled with it.

I commandeered every penny of my teacher's retirement money and launched my new business. A very scary move indeed, but I committed to it, overrode the thousand reasons I knew that it might fail, and jumped in. Every house I revamped was sold immediately and profitably and my new business was a success. I used some very basic design (less is more) and color ideas (neutrals appeal to most) to re-do my houses and they were a hit!" She also adds that she became very experienced at "flipping" houses and the results were bankable but after several years in, she knew that the market was changing and the time was coming to find another direction. "I had no idea what the next step in my life would be, but I knew for sure that I was not going to 'flip' any more houses."

"I had a successful background in teaching and over a number of years I had developed good skills and a good repertoire in the different historical hands in calligraphy, so on a wild notion I called some of the local adult schools and asked the principals if they would be interested in offering a calligraphy class, taught by me, in their adult school program. Each one was thrilled to include me in their curriculum and could not wait to sign me up! Now, I had to actually develop the classes and teach adults, which I had never done before! Classes were to begin only a few short weeks after my initial inquiries. I was completely panicked and beyond nervous, but I had no time to worry about the fact that I did not know what to do, I just knew I had to do it! My calligraphy classes were packed from day one."

Jill eventually expanded her schedule to include classes in some of her other interests and hobbies. She taught classes in card making, paper crafting, papermaking, paper marbling, and another passion of hers at the time, making fully articulated teddy bears. "What fun!" she says. "I met and worked with some of the nicest people on the planet. Many of them were seniors who were completely young at heart and spirit and with whom I had many raucous laughs and made many friendships. After teaching these classes for several years (and finally realizing that I was burning out and exhausted from my demanding teaching schedule), one student shared some art rubber stamps that she brought to class in a shoebox."

© Jill Meyer
At the time, there were very few art rubber stamps available, she tells, and she had never seen anything like them. "I fell instantly and completely in love with them! Within the next few days I had purchased every art rubber stamp that I could find and any inkpads or accessories that would enhance their use (many years later, I have well over 5,000 rubber stamps, and an entire room full of accessories)." She also found out whom the handful of companies were who made these marvelous objects. At that time, each stamp company had a distinctive look to their stamps. One could tell who the company was by simply looking at the stamp style. "I was putting on a brave face, but by now I was joylessly teaching calligraphy. In a timely, seemingly heaven-sent fluke, I came upon a want ad in a calligraphy magazine. A rubber stamp manufacturer was seeking to employ someone with a calligraphy or art background who knew how to use art rubber stamps. Yes! Yet another change in direction!"

She finished her commitments in teaching calligraphy and she became a demo artist for the rubber stamp company that placed the ad (and shortly thereafter, all of the other rubber stamp companies as well)! "I had never given a demonstration in a store before and I did not know what to do or how to do it, but I knew that I loved working with rubber stamps and I hoped that the people seeing my demonstration would forgive any amateur awkwardness that I might have as a demonstrator and be charmed by the delightful things that could be done with the stamps. The stamps, (and I think my enthusiasm for them) worked their magic."

© Jill Meyer
So she learned how to swim in different ponds and to show the distinct styles of each stamp company to its best advantage, she says. "This diversity in style is still seen in the art that I do currently for licensing." Her demo artist career grew to include a number of other companies that manufactured different products for art and crafts. Jill expanded her demos from stores to working at huge craft shows, trade shows and conventions for both fine art and crafts manufacturers.

"I used to walk these shows on my breaks and I noticed that there were a number of magazines dedicated to art and to crafts. I spoke with some of the people in the magazine booths and said that I demonstrated a lot of art and/or craft products and made loads of sample projects to show off the products. They told me that if I could make interesting projects and then write an article about them and step them out for the readers, that they would pay me for the articles. I really had no clue about how to do any of this for magazines but I took everyone's business card and said I might give it a go." Jill tried a few sample projects because she had no idea of what projects they wanted or how to do the articles. She sent the sample projects and her sample articles off hoping that she might get some feedback on what to do and how to do it correctly.  

All of her sample projects and sample articles were published in several different magazines. "I never looked back from there. I spent years doing projects and articles and having them published in what became a very long list of magazines. I had a project and article in at least two or three different magazines each time a new issue published. I always enjoyed doing the projects and writing the articles, and these proved to be very financially rewarding as well. This wasn't actually a change of careers but just an offshoot in another unexpected, unplanned, and really fun direction. Who knew??"

Although she remained madly in love with rubber stamps, her taste became more sophisticated and she realized that she could not find any stamps that really spoke to her on an artistic level. She designed a set of 12 large collage stamps which were the types of stamps that she wanted to use in her work. "I not only wanted an artistic stamp but also one that told a story. I showed my designs to a stamp company for whom I was doing demos. They in turn took the artwork to a trade show and asked their customers (mostly the large art and craft chain stores) if they would ever sell anything that looked like these stamps.

When the stamp company returned from the trade show they offered me a license to design stamps for them and told me that the 12 stamps which I had designed would immediately be going into several large chains across the country as soon as they could manufacture and ship them." Jill then goes on saying, "Those stamps and a number of others that followed were very popular and picked up by loads of stores both in the U.S. and in Europe. They were and still are very popular in the UK. I moved on from the original company but immediately licensed my work to another large stamp company.  They ultimately grew my line to 250-300 stamps. We all enjoyed the rubber stamp ride for six or seven years."


© Jill Meyer
During this time she also developed a craft product, Transfer Ink! which transferred a rubber stamped image to another substrate and gave the transferred image a soft, watercolor effect. "I licensed my product and it was manufactured and sold by a large ink company. Because of the runaway success of my stamps I was asked to license my artwork to a scrapbook paper company. I had no experience with scrapbook paper. I barely knew what it was. All of my rubberstamp work was done (of necessity) only in black lines on white and I did not know how to use color in the overall design for scrapbook paper." She said to the woman who wanted to license her work that she did not know anything about designing scrapbook paper and the lady said to her, "you'll learn!"

She did learn, and it was grueling, she says. "I had a short deadline and I had to learn everything that I needed to know, from the ground up. I worked through the day and then through the night many, many, times. I finally was able to design a line of vintage looking vellum papers and a number of sheets of vintage stickers to complement the papers. The papers and stickers became a huge commercial success." They were on QVC five times in the U.S. and the UK and sold in record numbers. So Jill was invited to scrapbook paper buyer's meetings where she was actually asked to sign autographs - apparently, you become an instant star when your product sells in great and glorious numbers, she says. It was fun for the moment but it did not remain on my long-range radar. She enjoyed the learning process and was proud that she had done well under very difficult circumstances, but somehow did not want to continue in this particular situation.

© Jill Meyer
Then the rubber stamp market became mature and changed drastically. "I knew that it was time for another change in direction for me as well. Although some of my stamps are still in many of the large chains, the rubber stamp industry ultimately dwindled to a shadow of its former self."

"I knew that there was at least one other area of business outside of crafts that licensed artwork. I had an agent at the time that asked to rep me after hearing of my successes in rubber stamps and scrapbook papers and stickers. He got me a badge to Surtex where he was showing my work for Fine Art and I walked the show. I knew immediately that I was going to be an artist in the stationery/gift, area. I wasn't sure what to do to make this happen but I was sure that it was going to happen."

It was a definite challenge, Jill adds. She had no idea that her artwork, which was so popular in crafts, was not viable in her new chosen market. "I worked very hard but was simply spinning my wheels. Finally, someone who was savvy enough and kind enough told me that my craft style of artwork was not going to work for stationery/gift. Once I had a clue, I researched and studied and worked very hard on changing the look of my coloring, cutting and pasting until it seems that I finally 'got it.' After I licensed my first image in stationery/gift, the floodgates opened and my images have been licensing well ever since. I'm still very enthusiastic, excited, and interested in what I am doing so I will definitely continue doing it…for now."

So, as it turns out, she is still coloring, cutting and pasting. Not in exactly the same way, or with the same tools that she originally used in kindergarten, but nonetheless she is still doing various forms of that original process, she says.

© Jill Meyer
"Change is always scary and disquieting; I have taken lots of leaps and re-invented myself many times so far in my life. I probably will do it again before the final story is written. I always hoped that the net would appear after the leap and it always did, but not always as expected! I think that the essence of what may be useful to others about my story is that I finally grasped the idea that staying in a situation when I could go no further with it was a good way to make myself unhappy. So, when I saw an opportunity or could make an opportunity to make a change in my life, I learned to require myself to say "Yes!" and take the jump, despite the angst and the undeniable fact that often I was flying only by the seat of my pants! So far it's been working out..."

Jill's website: www.jillmeyer.com - she's also the author of the article: Finding a New Agent.
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